It was a grisly discovery on an ice-covered island: a bag of 54 severed, frozen human hands.
The Siberian Times reported a man found a single hand sticking out of the snow, then an entire bag of them on an island in the icy Amur River, about 19 miles from the Chinese border.
Locals took several photographs of their find: One shows the hands jumbled together, and another shows them lined up neatly in the thick snow. A local media outlet reported bandages were also found near the hands, and those hands that have fingerprints will be used to try to identify the bodies.
The discovery prompted a flurry of speculation about where the hands might have come from. Gizmodo reported that local residents thought they might either have been cut off as a brutal punishment for theft or might have been lopped off of cadavers used by medical students.
Macabre bag containing 27 pairs of human hands found in bag on Amur River island. Mystery over who the hands belonged to, when they were chopped off, and why. GRAPHIC IMAGES https://t.co/eq2B1N1Pn9 pic.twitter.com/wJZqYveSPr
— The Siberian Times (@siberian_times) March 8, 2018
But Russian authorities said they do not believe the hands are a result of a crime.
In a translated post to the messaging app Telegram, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation said the hands were “not of criminal origin” but were instead improperly disposed of by a nearby forensic medical facility in the town of Khabarovsk.
Khabarovsk is a large city in eastern Russia with a population of more than half a million people.
The government’s argument has some credence, Russia Today reported, as morgue workers generally cut hands off of unidentified corpses to send off for analysis before disposal — though they’re supposed to be cremated or buried.
“Based on the [investigation] results, a legal assessment will be made of the actions of officials of the forensic medical institution in the city of Khabarovsk responsible for the disposal of these biological objects,” the investigative committee wrote, according to LiveScience.